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Walter Richard Birks, 1911 – 1974

Stipendiary Magistrate “Tom” Birks died in Rotorua on 3 February 1974 aged 62 years. Mr Birks had been a Magistrate for just under five years after a career as Crown Prosecutor in Wellington.

He was admitted as a barrister and solicitor in Wellington on 31 July 1934. He joined Crown solicitors Luke Cunningham and Clere, becoming a partner in 1940. From 1957 to 1969 Mr Birks was Crown Prosecutor in Wellington, succeeding Sir William Cunningham in the role after serving as assistant Crown Prosecutor.

He had a close involvement in the organised legal profession, being a member of the Wellington District Law Society Council for 12 years and President in 1958. He was a member of the Council and Standing Committee of the New Zealand Law Society from 1957 to 1959, and a member of the Council of Legal Education from 1966 to 1968.

His wife Hilda and himself adopted eight children. Hilda died in March 1968 aged 57 after being awarded the OBE for her work in the marriage guidance movement. Mr Birks was himself active on the Hutt Valley and National Marriage Guidance Councils and was also very involved in the Christian Family Movement and the Scouting Association.

In March 1969 Mr Birks was appointed a Stipendiary Magistrate, taking up his appointment in Wellington in April before moving to Rotorua later that year, where he was serving at the time of his death.

In a tribute on his death, Wellington District Law Society President RC Savage said while fundamentally a friendly man, Mr Birks’ attitude to his work and to the individual’s responsibility to the community generally showed clearly two sides of his character.

“He had a perhaps somewhat stern view that the administration of criminal justice did not call for a weak approach,” Mr Savage said. “He held that justice was served by the conviction of the guilty as well as by the acquittal of the innocent: on the other hand he showed a personal compassion for people, and particularly for those who suffered under some of the inequalities of life. This was shown very clearly by his readiness to help those in need and is reflected in his work with the Marriage Guidance movement. He was a staunch believer in the importance of marriage and the family to society. His pride in his wife and their eight adopted children was most evident to all.”

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Last updated on the 27th January 2020